If you think about your stomach only when it rumbles for food (or grumbles from too much food), you're ignoring a huge piece of your body's health puzzle.
Scientists have discovered that three-quarters of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract. It's also where you manufacture brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which influence how you think, feel, and sleep.
"A healthy gut is important for resisting illness and for feeling sharp, calm, motivated, satisfied—even happy," says nutritionist Anne Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., author of The Gut Flush Plan (Penguin, 2008).
To get you on your way to vibrant digestive health, we crafted this one-day plan with the most gut-friendly meals, supplements, and exercises. The timeline shown here is a general guideline. Feel free to adjust it according to your own schedule.
|6:30 A.M.||Wake up.|
Swig 4 to 16 ounces of tomato or carrot juice 15 minutes after waking. "Fiber in veggie juice may help prevent constipation and lower your risk of digestive diseases, and the fluid moves food through your system more efficiently," says Leslie Bonci, author of the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion (Wiley, 2003).
Sprinkle a capsule or packet of probiotics like Theralac or Jarro-Dophilus into your juice, says Gary Huffnagle, author of The Probiotics Revolution (Bantam, 2008). If you're battling diarrhea, food intolerances, or sinus allergies, you can add Culturelle, Yakult, or Align to yogurt or applesauce to distribute the probiotics along your GI tract, starting with your mouth. A British Medical Journal study showed that probiotics can reduce digestive problems, plus boost immunity and ward off chronic illness.
Practice abdominal breathing. Place one hand on your belly button and one on your chest. As you inhale and then exhale, you should feel more movement in your belly than in your chest. Take five deep belly breaths, counting to five on both the inhale and the exhale.
Breathing from the diaphragm improves digestion. Instead of answering the phone on the first ring, let it remind you to inhale and exhale; then say 'hello' on the second exhale. If it's a co-worker who ties you in knots, imagine the word 'breathe' tatooed on his or her forehead," says Leslie Kaminoff, a yoga therapist with the Breathing Project in Manhattan.
Take an enzyme supplement such as Digest Gold (enzymedica.com) with your first bite of breakfast to help prevent bloating and heartburn, says Tom Bohager, author of Everything You Need to Know About Enzymes (Greenleaf Book Press, 2008). You need digestive enzymes to break food into amino acids, essential fatty acids, and simple sugars but you have only a limited supply, and once you're over 40, your capacity to make digestive enzymes drops by at least 25 percent.
|7:15 A.M.||BREAKFAST MENU
1. Two-thirds of a cup of whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, granola, or 2 pieces of whole wheat toast.
BENEFITS: "Fiber in whole-grain food bulks up in your digestive tract and sweeps it clean," says Leslie Bonci, author of The American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion.
2. Eight ounces of plain yogurt (look for one with live and active cultures) with 1/2 cup blueberries or raspberries and 1 teaspoon of ground flaxseed.
BENEFITS: Plain yogurt provides natural probiotics and the berries are good sources of disease–fighting antioxidants, says Gary Huffnagle, author of The Probiotics Revolution. The potassium in yogurt can relax the colon and intestines so you can eliminate without straining. The omega–3 fatty acids in flaxseed lubricate the intestines and reduce inflammation throughout the body, including among the villi (or little hairs) lining the intestines.
3. Eight ounces of herbal tea or warm water.
BENEFITS: Warm water or tea with a wedge of fresh lemon relaxes the digestive system and helps emulsify fat. Add a dash of sea salt to help your body make enzymes. Skip fizzy drinks and choose green tea (which slows growth of bad bacteria in the GI tract) instead of coffee.
Walk or jog for 10 to 20 minutes or climb up and down the stairs in your office, or squeeze in a treadmill or dance workout. "Exercise gets your blood pumping and makes your metabolism work better," says Gary Huffnagle.